One of the reasons I’ve been quiet of late is that I’ve started a project where one of the things I’m looking at is emerging web technologies and trends in the UK (if you’re American that may read Web 2.0).
The future is bright, the future’s…
Tim Oâ€™Reilly as usual does a great job of distilling the Web 2.0 landscape into something meaningful, highlighting what the state of play is, and where things are going. You should read it if you havenâ€™t already. Dion Hinchcliffe looks at the participatory nature of Web 2.0, concluding that “In the end, how you make it easy for your Web users to blog, podcast, media share, mash, tag, etc. doesn’t matter. But always give them rich, easy, and sharable ways to contribute their voices clearly and loudly on the Web. That’s how Web 2.0 works.” That’s funny – I was always looking for that, but it seems that now it’s becoming ubiquitous thanks to countless hours from developers around the world, working to enrich the web.
This is all underscored by an obvious â€œThis is really cool stuff, but weâ€™re in the service business, so how do we make money out of it?â€ question, which of course we’re all wondering. At the moment, it seems that there is a lot of focus on social software of sorts, which is mostly in the startup mould. So, weâ€™re wondering whether there is anything beyond all the hype surrounding Web 2.0, that will interest clients enough to go (read: experiment) with essentially â€œunprovenâ€ technologies in their businesses.
In my mind, there is a big difference between the business application of Web 2.0 technologies, and how the individual uses those same technologies to do something, so weâ€™ve been doing research specifically around the following questions:
- How the technologies are entering the market?
- What role they will play in enterprises / corporates?
- What the adoption rate is likely to be?
- Who is doing it?
- Which vendors are talking about it?
- Which vendors are offering services around these technologies?
- And perhaps most importantly, what technologies are likely to be winners (so it’s not just about the technology itself, but all the factors combined)?
The phenomenal growth of social software [Flikr; Newsgator / Feed Demon; Del.Icio.Us; Wikipedia; Orkut; Linkedin; Upcoming.org; WordPress.com / WordPress.org; MySpaces; Technorati; Pubsub; Bloglines; Google Maps; BBC backstage; Rollyo; Meebo; Gada.be to name a few I can remember offhand] in recent times is prompting a buying and spending spree which weâ€™ve not seen for a while, which a lot of people are seeing as the next boom (or bust, whichever glass yours is) [Yahoo! bought Flikr and upcoming.org, Newsgator bought Netnewswire, AOL bought Weblogsinc, Verisign acquired Weblogs.com, Rupert Murdoch also made a spate of acquisitions all within a month or two a while back].
But where are the business applications / services that use the same technologies? I can think of some [Newsgator Enterprise; Basecamp / Backpack; Salesforce.com; Zimbra; Writely?; Socialtext; Sharepoint] but are there more? Am I missing something? Ryan Carson is working tirelessly to release an on-demand application aimed at businesses and individuals, which I’m really excited about – but where are the others that are doing the same thing? Is the inherent conservativeness and cynicism of the British culture holding it back, or is it just that we’re all at sea and quite far behind?
So far, it seems that weâ€™re witnessing a bottom up Web 2.0 technology adoption curve. Where web services are underscoring a mish mash of software that is changing the way we as consumers find, consume and share data. So I guess the question is, how do we drive this adoption into businesses usefully, using the same fundamentals?
Starting a startup and doing something cool with Web 2.0 is one thing (and there really is a flurry of activity going on at the moment), but weâ€™re really looking hard into how we can take the promise of Web 2.0 to clients who know they want to fully leverage what the web is becoming, but donâ€™t know how to do it.
Specifically, weâ€™ve been looking at RSS, blogs, Wikiâ€™s, podcasting, microcontent, web analytics, Sharepoint, communities and intranets; all within the corporate business environment and therefore the business applications and benefits of each. Weâ€™ve also looked at the consumer driven applications of these technologies, but since weâ€™re in the service business, weâ€™re looking at how to enable businesses to use these technologies, not how we can create and implement concepts ourselves.
For example, RSS, blogs, Wikiâ€™s and podcasting could all be used as tools to accomplish the following in a B2B / B2C context:
- Communication and information sharing within the business (Collaboration)
- Interaction between customers / clients / suppliers / partners / shareholders and the business (Push)
- Delivery of information about the business / products / services to customers (Pull)
Trends come and go, but the writing’s always on the wall
So, so far weâ€™ve come up with a few trends which I think are interesting but are in no way exhaustive:
- Growth of online communities
- Growth of Sharepoint as an out of the box intranet (suitable for most uses)
- Growth in use of web analytics to measure ROI
- Growth of the web as a platform for services
- Online consumption in the UK still very traditional and media based, innovation driven by advertising and content rather than interaction
- Blogging not as big as it seems to be in the US, definitely not mainstream (the British aren’t culturally big adopters of “Hey, look at what I think” technology â€“ Tom Coates says it well here)
- Very few people know what RSS is – RSS has started in the mainstream with BBC RSS feeds and Google News RSS feeds, but most people still don’t know what it is or think of it as voodoo
- Very few people know what a podcast is
- Even fewer people know what a Wiki is, but some know what Wikipedia is and what it does
- Microcontent even less known
We all know the pros and cons of the above trends and tools quite well, but who is actually doing it for their clients? Are clients doing it for themselves? Or is the fervency of the moment making me forget that the rest of the world (or at least as far as the South Bank of the River Thames…) just doesn’t care yet?
Who’s got the minerals?
One of the things that have surfaced in our research so far is that there donâ€™t seem to be many vendors that are visibly pushing Web 2.0 stuff to their clients in the UK at all, let alone many people talking about it. Individuals that come to mind offhand are Tom Coates, Simon Willison, Ben Metcalfe, Andy Budd, Ryan Carson and of course Cal Henderson (although technically heâ€™s in the US now, but heâ€™s an Englishman so weâ€™ll count him But these guys are all individuals connected quite tightly together, part of a small network espousing Web 2.0, but within the broader scheme of things are disconnected from the mainstream â€“ so where are the big players?
Andy Budd and the guys from Clear:left are poised to offer Web 2.0 type services to clients in the UK, but as yet theyâ€™re not quite there as theyâ€™ve just launched. They may disagree with that, so letâ€™s hope they start some discussion hereâ€¦ [On that note, theyâ€™ve put together an inaugural â€œWeb 2.0 for the UKâ€ conference in Brighton (d.Construct) which is a great step forward. Good on them â€“ Silicon Valley is pretty far away from London ;-)]
There are a few Microsoft vendors (Domino, Artemis, and Conchango come to mind) that are doing good work with Sharepoint (as an intranet platform), but thatâ€™s about it (that I know of). For the record, Sharepoint isnâ€™t quite Web 2.0 yet (IMHO), but I feel itâ€™s as close as an enterprise can get today, out of the box. Outfits just mentioned have the skills, credibility and relationships to do some awesome stuff, but from what I know most of their work is pretty corporate software / backend systems based. I canâ€™t see their corporate clients investing in new emerging technologies when there is so much else on the priority list to be done today.
So where does that leave us?
Iâ€™m not quite sure yet â€“ this is a work in progress, and there are loads of unanswered questions floating about, with lots more research to do!
I’d love to hear what you think?
Update: FeedLounge is also an emerging Web 2.0 app which I think has legs – it’s in Private Alpha Testing, but I’ve read good reports from various people via their feeds, and the if the screenshots are anything to go by, it’s awesome.
Which also reminds me of the screenshots I’ve seen of the new Yahoo! mail interface, which is tipped to top Gmail when it is released… looking forward to that